Ohio State has had three head coaches since the 1950s that have won at least as many national championships as Michigan has since 1948. Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer all reached the pinnacle of college football within their first four seasons of coaching.
For Hayes, his first five seasons were simply the start of an incredible 28-year career that saw him win five national championships and 13 Big-Ten championships. For Tressel, his first five seasons were followed by back-to-back national championship losses and ultimately the end of his time with the Buckeyes.
No one knows how Meyer’s final five seasons at Ohio State will go. The recruits sure look great now, but only time will tell if Meyer can cement himself as the greatest Buckeyes coach ever.
With that said, Meyer has now been at Ohio State for five seasons, it’s the #offseason, and I’m itching to do some comparing. Which Ohio State coach had the greatest first five seasons? Let’s first take a look some of each coach’s key statistics.
Those are three very impressive resumes, but it’s clear each coach has an edge in certain areas. Let’s dive into five key categories and see who comes out on top.
Michigan. Edge: Urban
Meyer is the the clear leader against That Team Up North at 5-0. He’s won against mostly solid Michigan teams as well, as his wins include three wins over top-20 Michigan teams. Meyer’s clear highlight was beating No. 3 ranked Michigan 30-27 in double OT in 2016, though his dominant 42-13 win over Jim Harbaugh and company in 2015 was legendary in its own right.
Tressel also killed it against Michigan, just like he said he would from day one. His 4-1 record came against five-consecutive ranked Michigan squads. Tressel’s signature win came at home against No. 12 Michigan in 2002 to go to the national championship, but shout-out to the 2004 Buckeyes for shocking No. 7 Michigan at home 37-21 in a huge upset.
Hayes lost two of his first three games against the Wolverines, but had back-to-back decisive victories in 1954 and 1955. After clinching a Rose Bowl berth after a 21-7 victory in 1954, Hayes traveled to Ann Arbor in 1955 and earned the only shutout among the group: a 17-0 victory of No. 6 Michigan.
Big Games. Edge: Jim Tressel
Hayes went 11-3-1 against the top-25, notching the fewest losses among the three coaches, but this category has to go to big-game Jim.
Tressel was consistently playing the country's best, as his 27 games against top-25 competition were eight more than Meyer and 12 more than Hayes. Tressel made a point of balling out against top-10 competition, notching a very solid 6-2 record. Where he truly stood out was in bowl games, where his 4-1 record surpasses Meyer’s 3-2 mark.
Meyer is an impressive 15-4 against top-25 competition, but Tressel’s early-career bowl success is overwhelming. Unfortunately for Hayes, only the Big-Ten champion was eligible to play in a bowl game (the Rose Bowl) up until 1975. That’s okay, because Hayes didn’t need to travel far to establish his legacy.
Conference Play. Edge: Woody Hayes
Hayes owned the Big Ten and is the only coach of the group to have two outright Big-Ten championship. He finished 24-7-2 overall against the Big Ten during his first five seasons and he didn’t lose in-conference in 1954 or 1955.
Tressel’s two Big-Ten championships included one that was shared in 2005. His 30-10 record against the Big Ten includes as many losses as Meyer and Hayes had combined during their first five seasons.
Meyer’s 40-3 record against the Big Ten is incredible. It’s not his fault his 2012 team didn’t have a chance to compete for championship glory, but even then he didn’t ever possess the same stranglehold on the conference that Hayes did. Sure, Meyer’s incredible two-year start against the Big Ten was great, but it culminated in a crushing defeat against Michigan State. Hayes managed to win all 13 of his Big-Ten matchups during 1954 and 1955 and helped establish the Buckeyes’ dominance over their conference.
Titles. Edge: Push
Each coach managed to secure one national championship. No one had an opportunity to win two, though teams in 1955, 2003, 2015 and 2016 certainly came close.
Overall Excellence. Edge: Urban
Meyer’s domination is simply unparalleled. He’s had two win streaks longer than anything that either Hayes or Tressel managed to string together during their first five years. Meyer’s 61-6 record is preposterous, but I think the most ridiculous stat is the fact that Meyer managed to score more points during his first five years than both Tressel and Hayes combined.
Tressel + Hayes point total = 2664. Meyer = 2731.
While Meyer earns this blogger’s approval, this study truly reflects the embarrassment of riches Ohio State has had at head coach for the better part of the last 60 years. Here’s to continued success in 2017 and beyond.